When Seth Allen got laid off from his marketing job, he turned to drink.
Not in a bad way. He saw an opportunity to do what he’d long been considering, and opened a specialty shop selling spirits, bitters and accessories. Libations & Company was born, and it opened recently in downtown Lee’s Summit.
Fancy an old fashioned? He has the stuff. Is a bloody Mary more to your taste? He’s got what you need.
Allen’s goal is to make it simple for someone interested in making craft or classic cocktails to find the key ingredients.
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Almost every grocer or liquor store will carry one flavor of bitters (a tonic made of aromatic herbs, fruits and spices, usually containing alcohol) used like spice in a drink, Allen said. His shop has 12. It also has “shrub” mixes and tools like shakers, muddlers, jiggers and high-end glassware. A shrub is a vegetable or fruit mix that contains vinegar, a method for preserving them before refrigeration.
The aprons he found to retail are made by hand in Spokane, Wash.; he’d looked at about 50 others — from thin cotton to heavy-duty garbs intended for welders — before he found just the right ones for his shop.
The store spotlights spirits from seven Kansas City-are distilleries: Union Horse, Tom’s Town, S.D. Strong, Restless Spirits, Lifted Spirits, Mean Mule and J. Rieger & Company.
He said he likes the style and historical flourishes given to the local products.
For example, the label for Tom’s Town has elements depicting the Big Boss era of Tom Pendergast, down to the rabbits and goats, two factions of the Democratic party that battled for control of Kansas City.”
He added other bits of history to the shop.
“Every piece of furniture has a story,” Allen said. He wants his customers to come in and experience an establishment with a pre-Prohibition feel. He searched Missouri and Kansas for antique furnishings. Shelves are made from wood salvaged from the historic Lee’s Summit train depot during a renovation several years ago. An 1890s buffet from San Francisco, which had been used in a “house of ill repute,” is one of the antique furnishings used for displaying his goods.
Allen said he’s not a bartender or champion cocktail inventor.
“I’m more of a student and a fan” Allen said. “I love to experiment.”
Allen said he came up with the idea when a Japanese client from his former job, who loved American bourbon, wanted to take home with him everything required to make an old fashioned. Allen found himself running around Kansas City to find the bourbon, bitters and glassware.
The new shop is a welcome addition to downtown, said Donnie Rodgers Jr., director of Lee’s Summit Downtown Main Street Inc.
“Specialty retailers like Libations & Company, offer shoppers a unique shopping experience with expertise, personal interaction and quality that just can’t be duplicated by online retailers,” Rodgers said.
“These specialty retailers are a destination and help to draw people to downtown Lee’s Summit from all over the metro.”
Allen said he became enamored with cocktails when he was a child, and he’d see the activity around the home’s wet bar and watch people fixing drinks during family gatherings. At that age he wasn’t aware of alcohol, he said, he just noticed it was “like the little social corner of the house.”
Customers can also have a drop at Libations’ tasting bar, but the store isn’t set up to serve crowds like a brew pub. In the future, Allen said he intends to rent the space for small special events and have classes with expert bartenders teaching customers the art of mixology.
He’s considering expanding into the online sales, but first is concentrating on the store. He said customers looking for quality goods want to experience them firsthand.
“You want to lay your hands on it; you want to feel it,” Allen said. “You want to talk to someone.”